- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
For more than two years, Democrats and Republicans have hotly debated the importance of the "Hunter Biden laptop" - insisting that it was either key evidence of corruption or fool's gold meant to con 2020 voters into abandoning then-candidate Joe Biden.
Both theories were largely wrong, according to two of the agents closest to the investigation of tax crimes allegedly committed by President Biden's son.
After being handed the device by a Wilmington, Del., computer shop owner in 2019, the FBI quickly concluded by examining computer data as well as Hunter Biden's phone records that the laptop was genuinely his and did not seem to have been tampered with or manipulated.
But the agents' accounts also indicate that the laptop played at best a small role in the criminal investigation into potential tax and gun-purchasing violations. Far from a smoking gun, the laptop appears to have been mostly an afterthought to the reams of text messages, emails and other evidence that agents gathered from Hunter Biden's cloud data. A lawyer for one of those agents said he nevertheless was frustrated by the Justice Department's refusal to let them review the laptop's contents.
The IRS agent on the case and his direct supervisor were interviewed in recent weeks by the House Ways and Means Committee, after making whistleblower disclosures about what they say was the inappropriate conduct of the Justice Department prosecutors overseeing the Hunter Biden investigation. The Republican chairman of the committee released the transcripts of the interviews Thursday.
Both the IRS supervisor, Gary Shapley, and the case agent, whose name is redacted from the transcripts, told the committee that the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware and senior officials at the Justice Department's tax division slowed down and stifled their investigation, ultimately leading to key evidence expiring because of the statute of limitations.
They accused Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss of saying he did not have the final authority on whether to charge Biden or where such charges could be filed. Such statements contradict repeated public assurances by Attorney General Merrick Garland that Weiss, an appointee of President Donald Trump, had total control of the Biden case.
Weiss "was given complete authority to make all decisions on his own," Garland insisted again Friday when asked about the apparent contradiction.
While the supervisory agent told the committee that Weiss claimed he had asked to be named a special counsel on the case - giving him greater independence - and had been turned down, Garland said he had never received such a request from the prosecutor.
"Mr. Weiss never made that request to me," Garland told reporters. "I would support Mr. Weiss explaining or testifying on these matters when he deems it appropriate."
Lawyers for Shapley said there are six government witnesses to the discussion at which Weiss made that assertion, at least one of whom has separately corroborated Shapley's account.
"That Mr. Weiss made these statements is easily corroborated, and it is up to him and the Justice Department to reconcile the evidence of his October 7, 2022 statements with contrary statements by Mr. Weiss and the Attorney General to Congress," the attorneys said.
The contradictory claims come just a few days after Hunter Biden struck a tentative plea deal with prosecutors in which he plans to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax crimes and will probably be sentenced to probation. He will also admit to having illegally possessed a gun and enter a diversion program that will dismiss the charge against him if he stays clean for two years.
Biden is due in court July 26. His plea deal must still be approved by a federal judge, and it's unclear if any of the allegations raised by the IRS agents could throw a wrench into that proceeding. It is rare, but not unheard of, for federal judges involved in guilty pleas or sentencing to press Justice Department officials to explain further how they arrived at determinations on charges and recommended punishments.
One of the most colorful details in the agents' account describes text messages from 2017 in which Hunter Biden appears to make an angry demand of Chinese business executives, and repeatedly invokes his father and his family name to try to get what he wants.
"I am sitting here with my father and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled," Hunter Biden wrote in the message later obtained by the IRS agents from his cloud storage. At that time, Joe Biden was out of office, having recently served eight years as the vice president.
"I would like to resolve this now before it gets out of hand. And now means tonight. And Z if I get a call or text from anyone involved in this other than you, Zhang, or the Chairman I will make certain that between the man sitting next to me and every person he knows and my ability to forever hold a grudge that you will regret not following my direction," Hunter Biden allegedly wrote. "All too often people mistake kindness for weakness - and all too often I am standing over top of them saying I warned you."
Over a slew of messages stretching over days, Biden, makes clear that he is unhappy that a deal he thought would be consummated for $10 million a year would actually generate $5 million. The IRS case agent told lawmakers that they were never able to determine what Biden would be doing for that money. Much of the IRS investigation tracked how Biden was paid by foreign entities in China, Romania and Ukraine and did not report some of that money as income.
"I can make $5M in salary at any law firm in America," Biden wrote, according to investigators' notes of the text conversation. "If you think this is about money it's not. The Biden's are the best I know at doing exactly what the Chairman wants from this partnerships. Please let's not quibble over peanuts."
Within days of Hunter Biden's blunt text messages, a deal was struck with the Chinese executives. Over the course of 14 months, a Chinese energy conglomerate and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter Biden and his uncle, The Washington Post reported last year based on a review of government records, court documents, bank statements and verified emails.
The Post, which did not have access to the WhatsApp messages that Shapley's testimony revealed, did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details about the transactions.
Hunter Biden's lawyer, Chris Clark, suggested in a statement Friday that such claims by his client arose not from Joe Biden actually helping Hunter's business pursuits, but from the younger Biden's drug addiction.
"Any verifiable words or actions of my client, in the midst of a horrible addiction, are solely his own and have no connection to anyone in his family," Clark said.
A White House official said the president had no recollection of anything like what was described in the notes about the text message.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was peppered with questions about Hunter Biden during her daily briefing on Friday and largely referred questions to the White House Counsel's Office.
"As we have said many times before, the president was not in business with his son," said Ian Sams, a spokesman for the counsel's office. "As we have also said many times before, the Justice Department makes decisions in its criminal investigations independently, and in this case, the White House has not been involved."
Since 2020, the Hunter Biden investigation has been the subject of heated accusations of corruption, political influence and dirty tricks. During that year's presidential election, Stephen K. Bannon and other Trump advisers touted a copy of the laptop they said Hunter Biden had brought to a Delaware computer shop, positing that the emails and photos on it held critical evidence of crimes.
Democrats suggested the data might have been doctored or possibly a Russian-backed disinformation campaign. The information provided by IRS agents to Congress seems to put both the accusations and counter-accusations to rest.
FBI agents were able to determine in early November 2019 that the device they had was registered to Hunter Biden, and phone records showed he had been in contact with the computer shop owner.
"We have no reason to believe there is anything fabricated nefariously on the computer and or hard drive. There are emails and other items that corroborate the items on the laptop," Shapley wrote in notes that dated that determination to around May 2020.
Shapley said a federal prosecutor on the case, Lesley Wolf, told him that the IRS agents couldn't see the laptop. "At some point, they were going to give a redacted version, but we don't even think we got a full - even a redacted version. We only got piecemeal items," Shapley told the committee, voicing his frustration that he would have liked to see all the data.
The agent's lawyer, Mark Lytle, said the decision to not provide the laptop to IRS agents "was one of many crucial investigative steps that were denied to the IRS agents for use in trying to make a complete record of the investigation."
Throughout the investigation, Shapley told lawmakers, Weiss and Wolf seemed to be more determined to "keep this investigation secret" than to bring charges.
The accounts by Shapley and the case agent suggest Justice Department officials were furious over an Oct. 6 Post article that revealed federal agents on the Biden case had concluded there were crimes that should be charged.
In a meeting Oct. 7, according to an email Shapley wrote the same day, senior officials complained "about the agent leak" and said the matter was being referred to internal investigators at the Justice and Treasury departments.
In the same meeting, Shapley wrote at the time, Weiss allegedly said that "he is not the deciding person on whether charges are filed." Shapley wrote in his email: "I believe this to be a huge problem - inconsistent with DOJ public position and Merrick Garland testimony."
One of the areas in which Garland's public statements appear to be contradicted by the agents' account of their own investigation is on the question of the role of Justice Department headquarters. The agents say the Justice Department tax division - not Weiss's office - held significant sway over what investigative steps could be taken and whether the evidence agents had supported a decision to file charges.
The Justice Department ultimately removed Shapley and his group of investigators from the case, according to the agents' transcripts.
- - -
The Washington Post's Perry Stein and Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.